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Liberty University
The Contribution of the Trinity of Cappadocian Fathers on the Divine Triunity
A paper submitted to Dr. Smither
In partial fulfillment of the Requirements for
the course CHHI 520
Liberty Theological seminary
Christopher W. Myers
Lynchburg, Virginia
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Table of Contents
Introduction- 3
Athanasius: The Forerunner of the Cappadocian Fathers- 4
Basil of Caesarea- 5
Gregory of Nyssa- 8
Gregory of Nazianzus- 11
A Conclusion: On the Cappadocian’s Contributions- 14
Bibliography- 15
!!! Introduction
       Discussion on the Divine Trinity is like walking across a cable that extends across Niagara Falls; one off balance step to the left or right and one falls into the river of heresy and is crushed under the waterfall of orthodoxy.
When discussing the Godhead, one must retain this perfect Biblical balance of tension between the one and the three or he will fall into favoring the one and become a modalist, yet if he favors the three, then he will become a tritheist.
So in this discussion of the Cappodocian fathers and in one’s own studies of the Divine Triunity, he must think like Gregory of Nazianzus when he says,
No sooner do I conceive of the one than am I illumined by the splendour of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one.
When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me.
I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest.
When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.[1]
The trinity of theologians from Cappadocia, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus, will be discovered in this brief paper, so that their contribution to the orthodox Trinitarian dogma is clearly seen.
Furthermore, their unities and diversities will be evaluated in this research.
To this author, it seems that too many scholars lump the trinity of theologians together under the head “Cappadocians” as if they had no theological distinctives.
The truth seems to be that Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory the Theologian have both unities and diversities regarding their theology that must be understood in order to clearly see their contributions to Trinitarian orthodoxy.
By holding the Cappadocian father’s theology in such tension, one can behold the perfect balance that God ordained for these men to conquer the day and defeat heresy and uphold the truth of Scripture, the truth of God’s triunity.
!!! Athanasius: The Forerunner of the Cappadocian Fathers
       The Cappadocians did not theologize in a vacuum, nor were they the first to carry the orthodox position on their shoulders.
Athanasius had carried the Nicene faith on his shoulders since the Nicene Council in 325AD.
Basil the Great took the burden from Athanasius and carried the flame of orthodoxy with his brother, Gregory of Nyssa and also later with his friend, Gregory of Nazianzus.
There were two groups who were in opposition basically over language; Kelly opines that their theology was essentially the same, the argument arising over whether /homoousios/ or /homoiousios/ should be applied to the Godhead.
Athanasius, recognizing that language was the main barrier preventing the uniting of the two parties, wrote /De synodis /in 359 to open dialogue with them.
His main thesis was that since the Homoiousions acknowledged the distinction of three persons, the Homoousions could not deny the /homoiousion/, however the Homoiousions must acknowledge the unity of substance if they truly believed in the perfect likeness of substance.[2]
It was from this /homoiousios/ tradition that the Cappadocians emerged.
Because of their origin of thinking, we observe their explanation of the Trinity to begin with an explanation of the three and then moving to the one.
However, in the West, the tradition was to explain the Trinity by starting with the one and then moving to the three.[3]
Basil was the theologian of the East who adopted the /homoousion/ language for the Godhead and showed his fellow Homoiousions that the Nicene faith indeed did not engender any Sabellian tendencies.
To Basil of Caesarea, who is called Basil the Great, this paper will now turn.
Basil of Caesarea
       Hildebrand helpfully traces four stages of Basil’s theological development concerning the Trinity.
The first two stages follow Basil’s movement from /homoiousion/ to /homoousion/.
The last two stages trace the emergence of /prosopon/ and /hypostasis/ in his Trinitarian thought.
Eventually, Basil understands that /prosopon/ is too prone to heretical misuse and so he affirms the Nicene formulation.[4]
Some words on Basil’s conversion to /homoousios/ are now in order.
Basil did not convert to /homoousios/ because his theology of the Divine Trinity changed.
Rather, Basil came to see the weakness of using /homoiousios/ in attribution of the Divine Trinity.
Indeed, through two contributions did Basil come to see the superiority of /homoousios/.
First is Basil’s observation of the Council of Constantinople in 360 where the /homoiousios/ formulation became a compromise that the Arians could even accept.[5]
Second is Basil’s conversation with Apollinarius.
Upon these two events, Basil came to see the superiority of /homoousios/.
Basil saw tendencies toward heretical understandings of the Divine Trinity with the use of either term, but Basil finally decided that the Nicene formulation of homoousios provided the least likelihood of heretical misuse, especially the Arian heresy who could not at all accept homoousion.[6]
Basil’s correspondence with Apollinarius is mostly preserved for us in Basil’s Letters and especially number 361.[7]
The evidence for Apollinarius being the prime mover of Basil’s conversion is contingent on Basil’s correspondence with Apollinarius being earlier than Basil’s /Letters/ to Maximus, which most clearly displays Basil’s shift to /homoousios.*[8]*/
Basil says to Maximus,
If I must give my own view, it is this.
The phrase “like in essence,”[9] if it be read with the addition “without any difference,”I accept as conveying the same sense as the /homoousion/, in accordance with the sound meaning of the /homoousion/.
Being of this mind the Fathers at Nicaea spoke of the Only-begotten as “Light of Light,” “Very God of very God,” and so on, and then consistently added the /homoousion/.
It is impossible for any one to entertain the idea of variableness of light in relation to light, of truth in relation to truth, nor of the essence of the Only begotten in relation to that of the Father.
If, then, the phrase be accepted in this sense, I have no objection to it.
But if any one cuts off the qualification “without any difference” from the word “like,” as was done at Constantinople,then I regard the phrase with suspicion, as derogatory to the dignity of the Only-begotten.
We are frequently accustomed to entertain the idea of “likeness” in the case of indistinct resemblances, coming anything but close to the originals.
I am myself for the /homoousion/, as being less open to improper interpretation.[10]
To this point Basil’s Trinitarian Theology is largely shaped according to Basil’s polemics and caution against Ariansism, especially as embodied in his work /Against Eunomius.*[11]*/
Now Basil battles the opposite realm, the heresy of Sabellianism, in his homily /Contra Sabellianos.*[12]*
/Basil’s battle against Sabellianism gives birth to Hildebrand’s third and fourth stages of Basil’s theological development and to these observations we now turn.
Basil in his polemic against the Sabellian~/Marcellion heresy established technical terms for the Trinity that could best express the Biblical data.
The greatest and most important of these terms is /hypostasis.
/The term itself has already been established by the Nicene fathers in 325AD.
But the Sabellians confused it by equating /hypostasis /with /ousia.
/Basil’s greatest contribution is that he distinguished clearly between /hypostasis/ and /ousia.*[13]*
/Basil allowed the truths of Scripture to shape language, instead of vice versa.
This is one of the reasons why he has deserved his title ‘the Great.’
Basil’s other technical term that he established flowed out from his important distinction between /hypostasis /and /ousia/; that term is /prosopon.
/Basil adopted this word which had a wide range of meaning[14] and could thus be given the more precise sense which it received in theological discussion.
Basil was well aware that neither this nor any other word he might have adopted was able to express the mystery of the three divine persons in their unity and distinctness.[15]
Basil was able to rescue the term from the hands of heretics by distinguishing /hypostasis /from /ousia.
Prosopon /during this time became almost interchangeable with /hypostasis, /Basil preferred the latter to the former.
Basil used /prosopon/ for his Trinitarian dogma/ /mostly when writing against heresy that misused /prosopon /to serve their heretical doctrines.[16]
Lastly on Basil, the study of historical theology must appreciate Basil’s contribution to establishing the divinity of the Holy Spirit and rightly placing him as the third person of the Trinity.
Yes, the fathers at Nicaea saw this clearly in Scripture; however, by Basil’s time the heretical group the Macedonians[17] had arisen in opposition to the deity of the Holy Spirit among other things.
Basil set the record straight in his treatise /On the Holy Spirit.*[18]*
/Basil speaks of the commonly accepted doctrine of the Holy Spirit as,
…an intelligent essence, in power infinite, in magnitude unlimited, unmeasured by times or ages, generous of It’s good gifts, to whom turn all things needing sanctification, after whom reach all things that live in virtue, as being watered by It’s inspiration and helped on toward their natural and proper end; perfecting all other things, but Itself in nothing lacking; living not as needing restoration, but as Supplier of life; not growing by additions; but straightway full, self-established, omnipresent, origin of sanctification, light perceptible to the mind, supplying, as it were, through Itself, illumination to every faculty in the search for truth; by nature un-approachable, apprehended by reason of goodness, filling all things with Its power, but communicated only to the worthy; not shared in one measure, but distributing Its energy according to “the proportion of faith;” in essence simple, in powers various, wholly present in each and being wholly everywhere; impassively divided, shared without loss of ceasing to be entire, after the likeness of the sunbeam, whose kindly light falls on him who enjoys it as though it shone for him alone, yet illumines land and sea and mingles with the air.
So, too, is the Spirit to every one who receives It, as though given to him alone, and yet It sends forth grace sufficient and full for all mankind, and is enjoyed by all who share It, according to the capacity, not of Its power, but of their nature.[19]
And Basil goes on to affirm the deity of the Holy Spirit from the attributes described of him in Scripture as wholly identical to that of the Father and Son; therefore establishing his consubstantiality.
Indeed, both Gregory’s contributed to the foundational surety of the dogma of the Holy Spirit, perhaps Gregory of Nazianzus the most, however Basil’s brother Gregory of Nyssa must first be evaluated.
!!! Gregory of Nyssa
              Gregory of Nyssa is considered the most brilliant of the trinity of Cappadocians.[20]
Basil’s great contribution was his proclamation of the Nicene formula by defining terms precisely and drawing a distinction between /hypostasis /and /ousia.
/Gregory of Nyssa ran with Basil’s work and improved upon it; his large work /Against Eunomius /is similar to Basil’s /Against Eunomius, /indeed Gregory’s work is Basil’s work with a more systematic structure of argumentation and improved arguments at that.
Gregory’s uniqueness lies in the theological center of his understanding of the Divine Trinity.
It is from this center that some of the most convincing arguments of Gregory’s day originated.
This center of Gregory’s theology will be explained, for it is his unique contribution among the trinity of Cappadocian theologians.
The very center of Gregory of Nyssa’s Trinitarian theology is his ontological understanding of nature, power, and activity.
Ayres convincingly shows that Gregory’s understanding of power (dunamis) as relating to the ontology of the Godhead is what has set him apart as “surpassing the other Cappadocians” and wherein lies the heart of his unique contribution to Trinitarian theology.[21]
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